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New Senior Housing Proposal In The Works

Westport has dithered and dickered about senior housing for years.

Tonight, a new proposal will be heard.

There’s only one catch: It’s in Weston.

A couple of hours from now, Weston’s Planning and Zoning Commission will hear an application to amend that town’s regulations. The aim is to permit a new zone: Active Adult Community District.

Landtech of Westport has prepared an application for a client to allow for residential lots specifically allocated to residents 55 years and older. The move to smaller lots would mean a historic shift for Weston, which has 2 basic zones: 2-acre residential and farming district, and a shopping district for a few small stores.

The amendment would affect a project being proposed for the Phillips property, on Waterbury Street at the intersection of Weston Road, Newtown Turnpike and Georgetown Road. Think of it as a half mile from “downtown” Weston, and around the corner from Cobbs Mill Inn.

Weston plan

The site plan for the proposed 55-and-over housing development in Weston.

The 15-acre property was a former farm. Remnants of the original barns and cottages remain.

The plan would retain and renovate the existing structures for accessory use, like a community barn and caretaker’s cottage. Houses would be built consistent with the traditional Weston style, but would allow multiple living units for residents.

The final number of homes will depend on site conditions. Each home will include 5 or 6 units (2 bedroom each).

It looks like a typical Weston (or Westport) house. But each house like this would have 5 or 6 2-bedroom units.

It looks like a typical Weston (or Westport) house. But each house like this could accommodate 5 or 6 2-bedroom units.

The project is headed by longtime Westonites Jess DiPisquale and Joe Lipton. Each has elderly parents living with them now, and many friends in similar situations.

Like Westport, Weston has many empty-nest residents living in large homes. They want to stay in their town, but would love to get rid of the upkeep and taxes.

If approved, older Westport residents would have an exciting new housing option.

They’d just have to change their zip code from 06880 to 06883.

 

Bridgeport Fire: Update

Two days after the devastating Bridgeport condominium fire, dozens of Westporters have leaped in to help. “06880” reader Elaine Marino — who has spearheaded Westport’s efforts — provides this update:

What’s needed are not more clothes. Instead, people should purchase things like toiletries, toothbrushes, toilet paper, soap, shampoo, diapers, baby formula, socks, etc. — in bulk if possible.

Sorting everything in the bags is an enormous task. Receiving a case of baby formula or diapers is far easier to distribute. The items can be left at Elaine’s house: 129 Sturges Highway, near the corner of Cross Highway.

If items were expected to be picked up today, email esmarino@msn.com. She will confirm pickup tomorrow (Sunday).

“06880” reader Mary Ann West adds:

The response to the victims of the huge Bridgeport fire has been amazing. I was at Town Hall today with members of the Red Cross Disaster Response Team. It was heartwarming to see families with children taking time to donate food, gift cards, clothing, toys and household items.

Almost all the people are in temporary housing, either staying with family, friends or alternative situations, just starting the process of beginning from scratch. Yesterday and today they were picking up items for their immediate short-term needs. Once they get settled in they will be starting from zero. This will be a longer-term effort to help the 120 people who lost everything, including their cars.

Westport Town Hall - Bridgeport relief

The scene in Town Hall, earlier. today. (Photo/Mary Ann West)

 

…But It Sure Helps

The bumper sticker of the year, spotted by alert “06880” reader Chris Grimm:

'You don't have to be rude' - bumper sticker

 

Get Lit For The Holidays

Tomorrow evening (Thursday, December 3, 5 p.m.) marks the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Town Hall. It’s a fun event, and all are welcome.

But if you figured you’d mosey on down to Christ & Holy Trinity Church afterward, for what in the past few years was a nice hot cocoa-and-carols gathering, think again.

The venue has changed. The celebration will now be held on Main Street, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. There will be carolers (starting at Town Hall) and food carts (with free roasted chestnuts, pretzels, popcorn and cotton candy). Non-profits will offer information on their groups too.

The Christmas tree at Town Hall, following a lighting ceremony.

The Christmas tree at Town Hall, following a lighting ceremony.

If you’re looking for more details though, do not check out the Westport Downtown Merchants Association website. As of this morning, it still previewed last year’s event. (The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce is a co-sponsor.)

Can’t make it to Town Hall tomorrow? Or just a tree-lighting junkie? Come to Wakeman Town Farm this Saturday (December 5, 4 p.m.).

In a revival of a longtime Wakeman family tradition, farmers will light the tree. There’s a bonfire, hot chocolate and treats, while the Coleytown Middle School band plays holiday tunes.

The Wakeman Town Farm Christmas tree.

The Wakeman Town Farm Christmas tree.

More into dreidels and latkes? Westport’s 4 Jewish congregations — Beit Chaverim, Chabad, the Conservative Synagogue and Temple Israel — join hands on the 1st night of Hanukkah (this Sunday, December 6, 5 p.m.) for a community-wide menorah lighting and celebration.

It’s set for the small park at the corner of the Post Road and Main Street. The menorah will remain up (and lit nightly) for all 8 days.

“In a world often filled with darkness and divisiveness, we are thrilled to stand united with the hope of bringing light into our community as we celebrate Hanukkah together,” says Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of the Conservative Synagogue.

Hanukkah is, of course, the Festival of Lights. Whatever your faith — or if you have none at all — you can still enjoy the holiday lights downtown. The ones on the menorah, and the other ones on the lamp posts.

Happy holidays!

 

 

 

Ken Bernhard: Syrian Crisis Is Of “Biblical Proportions”

In the wake of the Paris terror attacks, more than 30 governors have said their states will not accept Syrian refugees.

Connecticut’s Democratic governor, on the other hand, personally welcomed a family diverted from Indianapolis to New Haven.

A former Republican legislator from Westport thinks that’s great.

Ken Bernhard

Ken Bernhard

Ken Bernhard is not just reacting to the news of the day. He’s been concerned with refugees’ plights  since the crisis began several years ago. A noted attorney, he helped found The Syria Fund. That 501(c)(3) provides education, medical supplies, household goods and food to families living in dire, desperate areas underserved by large, mainstream organizations.

Bernhard’s humanitarian efforts began at a typical suburban setting: a cocktail party. A woman who’d studied in Syria told him about the refugee crisis brewing in the Mideast.

Bernhard had taught under a UNESCO program in Jordan. He recalled the “lovely, hospitable, generous people” he’d met, and vowed to help.

The refugees who began fleeing Syria nearly a year ago are primarily middle class, he says. Rich and poor Syrians left a long time ago; store owners and professionals thought they’d be able to “hunker down.” Now they’re leaving their embattled land with only what they can carry. Up to 80,000 are jammed into temporary camps.

Syria Fund logoWestporters have reacted “very generously” to his pleas for help through the Syria Fund, Bernhard says.

The former elected official — he’s been Westport’s 3rd selectman and served 4 terms in the Connecticut General Assembly, including a stint as assistant minority leader — is wary of politicians who “advocate simple solutions to complex situations.”

The US has been actively involved in the Middle East for 70 years, he notes. Our actions — like supporting the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein (“until we turned against him”) — have helped sow the seeds of the current dangerous problems.

“I don’t think we can turn a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis that’s partly the result of our own actions,” Bernhard says. “We’ve had the advantage of an ocean between here and there. Now we’ve got a choice with these refugees: step up or not.”

He is not naive about the need for security. But, he insists, “the process to get here is so arduous. These are people who have been seeking sanctuary for years. In 2 trips over there, I’ve never seen people hostile to the US.”

He adds, “what are these millions of people fleeing Syria supposed to do? If we don’t help, the problem will migrate. We’ll have to deal with it somewhere else.”

Many current Syrian refugees are middle class, Ken Bernhard says.

Many current Syrian refugees are middle class, Ken Bernhard says.

Bernhard calls the conditions in the migrants’ camps appalling. Families sit idle in the hot (and cold) desert. Children grow up there knowing no other life. “If we don’t educate them, and give them employment and prospects for hope, these are the young men who will turn to ISIS,” he says.

He is proud of what The Syria Fund has accomplished — with help from his fellow Westporters. As long as refugees need aid, he’ll continue raising funds.

“This is America. This is Westport,” Bernhard says. “It’s a mass migration — a crisis of biblical proportions. We’re witnesses to it. We all have an obligation to step up and do something about it.”

(To learn more about The Syria Fund, including how to contribute, click here.)

 

Westport’s Most Beautiful Pond

Saugatuck. Compo Beach. Longshore.

You hear “Westport,” and those come to mind.

But Sherwood Mill Pond — the 84-acre tidal estuary and verdant salt marsh stretching from I-95 to the Long Island Sound — is just as important and historic as any of those better-known spots.

And its beauty rivals any place around.

Sherwood Mill Pond (Photo/Ellen van Dorsten)

Sherwood Mill Pond (Photo/Ellen van Dorsten)

The Pond’s impact dates to 1705. As the 1st working grist mill — powered by tidal shifts — it provided the commerce required to be chartered.

The original grist mill. It -- and several others that followed -- burned to the ground.

An early grist mill. It — and several others — burned to the ground.

For ages, the Mill Pond supported a thriving oyster and clam trade. “Captain Allen” was an original supplier to Grand Central’s Oyster Bar. He later opened Allen’s Clam House, a beloved landmark, on the pond’s Hillspoint Road shore.

The pond nearly died in the late 20th century. But it roared back to life — along with more than 70 species of birds and aquatic life that call it home.

A couple dozen homes front the Mill Pond, across from Old Mill Beach. Others face Long Island Sound on Compo Cove, accessible by foot over a pair of wooden bridges.

Homes along Sherwood Mill Pond. (Photo/Betsy Phillips Kahn)

Homes along Sherwood Mill Pond. (Photo/Betsy Phillips Kahn)

Homes were first built in the 1920, on lots selling for $200. Today they’re among the most coveted — and unique — residences in town.

That history — commercial, environmental and personal — is now told in a gorgeous book. Westport author, artist and teacher Judith Orseck Katz has created “The Beautiful Pond,” a stunning watercolor and text tribute to this special place.

The pages take readers through the pond’s transformation from a working mill, to a beloved and bucolic sanctuary for coastal life of all types (including human).

Beautiful Pond cover

And — in keeping with the important environmental theme — Katz and the book’s sponsor, Mill Pond resident Robin Tauck, are partnering with Sound Waters. All proceeds fund the organization’s academic enrichment programs for low-income students, via SoundWaters’ STEM Academy.

Katz has weaved together history, environment and personal memories, creating a wonderful book. Her drawings and words range from cormorants and seagrass to the Sherwood family and Allen Raymond; from tidal gates and hurricanes to the Coleys and Northrops.

The Sherwood Mill Pond covers more area than we imagine -- and its contours are more irregular than we think.

Sherwood Mill Pond covers 84 acres, from I-95 to Old Mill Beach.

Many Westporters — some of them longtime residents — know nothing about the Mill Pond. Driving past on Hillspoint or I-95, they never even notice it.

Plenty of others — including those who swam long ago in its clear waters, and finally can do so once again — are awed by its beauty, serenity, and historic grace.

This book is for all of them.

(“The Beautiful Pond” is available soon at Barnes & Noble and Earthplace. To pre-order in hard cover ($45) or soft cover ($25), click here. All proceeds benefit SoundWaters.)

Sherwood Mill Pond is lovely in all seasons. (Photo/Kendall Anderson)

Sherwood Mill Pond is lovely in all seasons. (Photo/Kendall Anderson)

Tooting Tophat’s Horn

Back in the day, being tutored was a mark of shame.

Now, Staples students talk about “my tutor” as casually as they once said “my dog,” or the Knack sang “My Sharona.”

Some of those tutors charge stratospheric rates. Others are closer to earth, but still up there.

Then there’s Tophat Tutors.

Tophat Tutors logoThe 3-year-old outfit is not only aimed at students — it’s run by them. The result is a different kind of tutoring. And different rates.

Tophat was the brainchild of then-Staples senior Charlie Jersey. He and a couple of friends began tutoring classmates, and younger students.

When he graduated — he’s now at Williams College — Charlie sold the fledgling business to Nick Massoud, for $1. Nick — now at Yale — expanded the number of tutors, and added a website (www.tophattutors.com).

Last spring, Nick sold Tophat for the now-traditional $1 to Vig Namasivayam. He’s one of those very busy seniors — president of both Staples Players and the National Honor Society, among other activities — but along with Tophat vice president Simon Ginsberg, he’s expanded the company even more.

Tophat tutors — who must be at least high school juniors — offer one-on-one services in math, biology, chemistry, physics, environmental science, writing, history, government, economics, Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, Chinese and more.

Vig Namasivayan

Vig Namasivayam (Photo/Kerry Long)

Vig chooses his staff carefully. They must be knowledgeable in their subject areas (duh), but able to connect with peers and younger students too. They must also be good role models.

Last spring, Vig met with all 27 tutors. He described his own tutoring style, and stressed the importance of patience and professionalism.

Like many higher-priced tutors, Tophat sessions take place in students’ homes, the library, or Barnes & Noble. Unlike the others, Tophat charges just $40 an hour.

As president, Vig faces challenges other tutoring services do not. “A lot of seniors are busy with college stuff,” he says. “I’ve got to make sure they have time to do this, and do it right.”

He takes care to match students with appropriate tutors. One parent may request a “sweet, nurturing girl” for her child. Another asks for a “straightforward guy.”

Feedback has been excellent. Parents are pleased that a peer is helping their child. They’re also pleased not to shell out $700 an hour* for the service.

Tophat Tutors at work.

Tophat Tutors at work. 

As for Vig, he loves his job. “When a kid gets an A on a test, I’m happy too,” he says. He also enjoys the process of organizing and matching his tutors, and expanding the business. (Tophat is moving into Weston.)

Vig is not yet sure who he’ll sell Tophat Tutors to, a few months from now. But he promises the price will be $1.

That’s low — just like his tutors’ prices.

The quality, though, is sky-high.

(For more information, click here; email tophattutors@gmail.com, or call 203-912-1645.)

*The high end, believe it or not

108 Cross Highway: Preserving History, Preventing A Teardown

In June 2011, 108 Cross Highway came on the market. From all indications, it would be the next Westport teardown.

An uproar ensued. The 2-story “vernacular” — with a barn — on the well-traveled stretch between Roseville Road and North Avenue was built in 1805. Records indicated it was one of the few Westport dwellings constructed by a “free black man.”

(That assertion was later challenged. The “Henry Munroe House” may, in fact, have been built by an Indian.)

108 Cross Highway

108 Cross Highway in 2011.

The usual Westport battle raged. On one side were those decrying the destruction of a handsome old home — one with historic significance.

On the other side were those who say that property owners are free to do whatever they want. After all, it’s their money.

The house was taken off the market, rented, then put back on. Jeff Porter and Rachel Ember had been thinking of contemporaries. But when realtor Amy Swanson showed them 108 Cross Highway, they fell in love.

They closed on the property in January 2014.

Nearly 2 years later, the house still stands. The new owners have redone the porch, repaired the chimney, added a paddock fence, restored and refinished the original wood floors, and remodeled the side entry and kitchen in a style appropriate to the home (sourcing reclaimed barn wood).

They also repaired the barn’s rotted siding, and reconfigured the garage doors in a more traditional carriage style.

Today, 108 Cross Highway looks better than ever.

Rear view of 108 Cross Highway, showing a new fence, walkway and covered porch.

Rear view of 108 Cross Highway, showing a new fence, walkway and covered porch.

In fact, it’s one of this year’s recipients of a Preservation Award from the Westport Historic District Commission.

The barn and pool.

The barn and pool.

Too often in Westport, structures like these fall victim to the wrecking ball. We close our eyes, wring our hands, and move on.

The next time you pass 108 Cross Highway, open your eyes wide. Put your hands together, and linger awhile. It’s a wonderful sight to see.

108 Cross Highway, today.

108 Cross Highway, today.

The kitchen, with reclaimed barn wood flooring.

The kitchen, with reclaimed barn wood flooring.

(The 2015 Historic Preservation Awards will be presented by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Historic District Commission chair Francis Henkels and commission members on Monday, October 26, 7 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium.)

 

Casey Dohme’s Blind Rhino

At Staples High School, Casey Dohme earned fame as a baseball player. He played at Franklin & Marshall College too, where he majored in religious studies and government.

But during college he got a job at Bobby Q’s. He had fun, earned good money, and caught the restaurant bug.

Casey Dohme

Casey Dohme

Two summers later, former Bobby Q’s manager Mike Dobbs hired Casey at his new spot: The Ginger Man, in South Norwalk. Casey quickly moved up the ranks, from busboy to general manager. A couple of years ago he headed to Stamford, to open up a Ginger Man there.

He liked the small chain’s emphasis on craft beers. He helped organize beer dinners, beer events and beer education series. He loved finding new local breweries.

One day, he hoped, he’d come up with his own concept and project.

That day has arrived. Working with a pair of former Ginger Men — aspiring brewer Matt Bacco and chef Jamie Pantanella — he’s taken over SoNo’s old Bradford’s sports bar, on North Main Street.

They’ve cleaned up the woodwork, installed a big 10-foot tap from a Norwalk boatyard, installed 27 TVs, and designed a food and beverage menu that kicks the former place up a few notches.

There will be the typical sports bar wings and things, but also some surprises:  a shrimp po-boy, ribeye cheese steak, sweet potato hummus and more.

Casey’s father — a longtime Westport builder, specializing in restorations — has added his expertise.

The result is the Blind Rhino. A soft opening is planned for tonight (Thursday, October 15), with the doors open to the public tomorrow.

Casey’s new place will also prove “you can have good wine in a sports bar.”

Blind Rhino logo

I asked about the differences between the dining scenes in South Norwalk, and in his hometown.

He likes both places. Westport, Casey says, now has a real “dining scene.” But SoNo is  a “destination spot,” with restaurants near each other and an energetic vibe.

“It’s all good for Fairfield County,” Casey says.

And for anyone looking for a new place to watch sports, enjoy a creative menu and drink craft beer.

 

DOT Has The Answer To Our Transportation Woes!

Every so often — like cicadas, and Bushes running for president — someone floats this idea: Widen our highways.

This time, the Connecticut Post reports, the plan comes courtesy of the state Department of Transportation. Adding lanes to I-95 — all the way from Greenwich to Stonington — as well as I-84, would “produce economic benefits of nearly $40 billion — more than 3 times the cost of both projects combined.”

According to Governor Malloy, most sectors of the state’s economy — especially manufacturing, retail and tourism — would benefit.

A familiar Connecticut scene.

A familiar Connecticut scene.

 

The story notes:

Adding a lane in each direction on I-95 across southern Connecticut will produce $15.5 billion in new business sales, add $9 billion to Connecticut’s gross state product, and add $6.3 billion in new wage income to workers. The widening itself will cost $10.7 billion and support between 11,000 and 19,000 construction jobs over a 10-year ramp-up construction period….

“These numbers prove widening our interstates is the smart thing to do and demonstrate what we’d be losing if we don’t do it, in terms of our economy, jobs, and productivity,” James P. Redeker, commissioner of the transportation department, said. “We really can’t afford to wait.”

Sounds great!

I just have 2 questions:

  • Given the glacial pace of the Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge construction project, would it really take just 10 years to “ramp-up”?
  • And, um, where exactly would we get this land in Westport to add a lane on each side?

(Hat tip: Billy Nistico)